Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Conversations about Difficult Topics

For anyone who can take a break from grading, the following link might be of interest. And for anyone who's ever struggled with handling a conversation about diversity, this author offers some ideas. Of course, there are many sources on this subject out there, but I appreciated this author's perspective after feeling the challenges of facilitating such discussions recently.

The project Stephanie discusses below contains an inherent connection to those "difficult conversations." How do we talk about the physical or intellectual differences of our student body at Ursinus? How do we foster these conversations among our students?

Next year, the TLI will be sponsoring a series of discussions about pedagogy and diversity. Please stay tuned, and feel free to send feedback/comments/questions along.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Update on TLI Small Grant for Curriculum Innovation

Earlier this spring semester, I applied for and was awarded a Teaching and Learning Initiative small grant to help me develop course materials. This post is an update on my progress with my proposed project, "Going Beyond the Banality of Education-Speak: Bringing Disability Theory to the Education Curriculum." Before I provide an update, however, I have provided an excerpted (slightly revised) version of my proposal.

Overview of Proposal: At present, the Education Department is under pressure from the Pennsylvania Department of Education to incorporate more material about what educationalists call “exceptional learners” into all of our courses; this includes study of gifted and talented students and students with disabilities (physical, emotional, intellectual). The purpose of my project is to add readings to my courses and to create a library of disabilities studies materials that my department colleagues can use in their courses.

While there is a wealth of ready-made material on these topics, our department prefers to take a more liberal arts approach to education, going beyond the banality of much of the discourse in our field to help students think in complex ways about topics for which there are not always easy answers. We tend to prefer primary sources over textbooks, and as a philosopher of education, I prefer to incorporate texts from the humanities into my classes in addition to the more applied social scientific research that is prevalent in Education.
As such, my work on this project has involved delving into the wealth of literature within the humanities and social sciences that problematizes the ways in which we define what it means to be an "exceptional learner" (disabled/able, normal/abnormal etc). Such work, which falls into the fields of literary theory, history, philosophy, anthropology, and disability studies takes a more contextual look at such definitions, considering the ways in which our definitions reflect underlying social, historical, and political values.

Update on progress: At this point, I am about halfway through my project. I have reviewed the following books and selected (or decided against) readings from within them: The Disability Studies Reader, Crazy Like Us, Manufacturing Depression, Foucault and the Government of Disability, and Healing Logics. I am currently in the process of acquiring and reviewing the following works: The Incomplete Child: An Intellectual History of Learning Disabilities, On the Margins of Citizenship: Intellectual Disability and Civil Rights in Twentieth Century America, Aesthetic Nervousness: Disability and the Crisis of Representation, Shyness : how normal behavior became a sickness, and Why are so Many Minority Students in Special Education? I am also still looking for more sources, so if anyone knows of any, please drop me a line.

What next? I managed to incorporate three brief readings from The Disability Studies Reader and Crazy Like Us in my “Foundations of Education” course late this spring.Students responded well to them, so I will likely use them again. I will also incorporate a few more readings into this same course when I teach it again in the fall and hope to use more of these readings next spring when I teach “Intro to Education” and possibly an upper level seminar. Once I have finished reviewing the above texts, I intend to spend my grant money to purchase the ones I think will be most valuable to my department and will create a library of readings in our office area for all to use.